Over 50 And Divorcing

Four Important Things To Keep In Mind


Are you over 50 and divorcing - or considering a divorce? Getting a divorce is a difficult time in almost anyone's life. According to a well-known list compiled by physicians to predict illness, divorce is the most stressful life event an adult goes through, second only to the death of a child. It is more stressful than imprisonment, the death of a close family member or even a serious personal injury.

Getting a divorce after the age of 50 comes with its own set of challenges, both social and economic.

Adjusting to life as a single person after many years of marriage can be liberating, but also terrifying, if you haven't been in another relationship for many years - or even if you have.

Depending on whether you were primarily responsible for caring for the children and marital home you may be asked to enter the workforce with a resume that has not seen the light of day for decades, and without relevant experiences for anything but entry-level positions, for which you will have competition from others less than half your age.

If you were the breadwinner, prepare to pay a significant portion of your salary to your former spouse.

Another common issue is retirement planning. Where a pension or 401(k) along with social security benefits may have provided a livable retirement for two living in the same household, those same benefits may fall far short of anything resembling comfort in the future.

So, it is not surprising that when a leading family law attorney in our community was asked in an interview recently what he advises when someone is considering divorce, his response was simple: "Don't."

Sometimes you don't have a choice. You might be the victim of abuse throughout the years, emotional or physical, so that the kids could have a stable childhood, but with the kids gone, you need to get out to live the rest of your life without the looming drumbeat of potential violence.

You might discover certain facts that prevent you from remaining a couple. Or you might be the person who wants to hold a failing marriage together, but the other party does not.

Whatever the reason, if you find that you're over 50 and divorcing, there are four important things that you need to keep in mind.

  1. You may own part of your spouse's pension or retirement, that is, a part of the amount he/she will receive (or is already receiving) every month for life as a result of employment during the marriage.
  2. You may own part of your spouse's retirement account, like a 401(k), 403(b), ITA, or TSP.
  3. If you have been married more than 10 years, you may be entitled to social security benefits equal to the one-half the amount your spouse receives, even if you did not work outside the home during the marriage.
  4. While you own one-half of any business started during the marriage, even if you never set foot in the door of the business, you may have an ownership interest in a business your partner started prior to marriage.

Divorce is nearly always difficult, but it can be exceptionally hard after 50. While many rely on family and friends for emotional support during this stressful time, too many people attempt to go it alone through the divorce process by representing themselves in an effort to save money and reduce the stress associated with this life change. Often, these misguided efforts result in a loss that dwarfs the cost of good counsel. If you have to go through this, at the very least, get advice from an experienced attorney - preferably one who specializes only in family law - before you commit to anything. Protecting your rights now may well play a large role in your economic reality for years to come.

Sarah T. Schaffer, CFLS, LL.M, is the founder and managing partner of the Schaffer Family Law Group, a full-service divorce, mediation, and family law firm known for effective legal representation and compassionate client service. For more information, please visit Schaffer Family Law